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1.  What you can do
2.  Water
3.  Ecology
4.  Amphibians
5.  Environmental Issues
6.  Keystone species
7.  Get Wet!-
     Field Study Ideas

8.  The Zoo Experience
9.  Frogs & Friends
10. Case Studies
11. Resources
12. Glossary

Wetland Curriculum Resource
Unit 8. The Zoo Experience

Expected learning outcomes >>
List of Activities for this unit >>
Background for educators >>


The Toronto Zoo provides an excellent opportunity for students to experience the diversity of the earth's wild life firsthand. Students use their own observations guided by the Zoo Activity Sheets included in this unit. These Activity Sheets are designed for use at the Toronto Zoo because of Adopt-a-Pond's close affiliation with this world-class site. However, many of these ideas can be adapted for other locations and we suggest you contact your local zoo for suggestions.

The Zoo Activity Sheets support these themes:

  1. Amazing Wild Life - Biodiversity
  2. Living in the World's Wetlands: Adaptations
  3. Exploring Life Cycles and Families
  4. Animal Communications
  5. Who's Who - Classifying Wild Life
  6. Wild Life at Risk

Use these sheets to focus the students' attention for part of their visit, for example within one zoogeographic region or pavilion, or for their entire day at the Zoo. Use these ideas on their own or in conjunction with the activities and "Zoo Links" that appear throughout this guide.

The section Answers and Notes for Educators in this unit assists teachers who are using these observation sheets. But, the Zoo collection is dynamic. Your students' observations and answers will depend upon when you visit the Zoo and what you see that day. While it is not possible to anticipate all the answers that your students might have, this section will provide some guidance and it might be beneficial to review it before heading to the Zoo.

Pointer -

  • Zoos are dynamic, exhibits change and individual species may be off display for a variety of reasons (exhibit repairs, special breeding needs, medical treatments and so on). If you have time, a preparation trip to the zoo will prove invaluable. If not, zoo staff may be able to provide you with suggestions over the phone or recommend background material.
  • The Zoo is a big place and you will not be able to visit all of it in one day. Focus your tour and don't try to do to much.

The Toronto Zoo allows the chance to touch on the diversity of life on earth. It houses thousands of species of native and exotic plants, including more than 500 species of trees and shrubs and it is home to hundreds of different species of wild life from insects to fish to mammals and birds. But the Metro Zoo's collection, although diverse, represents only a very tiny portion of the species found in the world.

Some Suggestions:

  • For background, see Unit 3, "Biological Diversity" in this manual. This section includes a variety of sources for more information about this subject..
  • Contact the Zoo's Education Department at (416) 392-5945 for their new resource unit, Endangered Species, it provides a good summary of biodiversity as it relates to the Zoo.
  • In this unit, the Zoo Activity Sheet 8.1 Amazing Wild Life: Biodiversity, guides your students observations at the Zoo. A discussion about the diversity of life on earth can follow back in the classroom.

From the desert-like conditions of Canada's arctic to the rain forests of South America to the coral reefs of the world's oceans, the Zoo houses creatures adapted to life in a wide range of habitats. Water is key to the survival of all living species and many of the Zoo's inhabitants are specially adapted to life in the world's wetlands.

Some Suggestions:

During your visit to the Zoo it is likely that you will see animals in all stages of their life and, because the Zoo groups animals together the way they would be in the wild, you can actually observe their family interactions. You may see a gorilla or tiger nursing or playing with its young, or observe a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. Some of the exhibits include dioramas which show such things as young turtles hatching from their eggs.

Some Suggestions:

  • For information about the life cycle and metamorphosis of frogs and toads see Unit 4, Ontario Frogs and Toads, Reproduction
  • The study of "Families" is particularly important in the younger grades. For young children simple observation of the Zoo animals and families you see during your visit, guided by a parent or teacher, will provide the best learning experience.
  • At the Zoo, use 8.4 Bringing Up Baby! to look at some of the unique ways that amphibians and other animals reproduce and care for their young. This sheet may be modified for use with younger children.


Most students have been introduced to the ways in which humans communicate. People who share a common language communicate by speaking or writing. But humans do not rely solely on "words" in their day-to-day communications. Non-verbal communications, body language and gestures convey information. In fact some sources estimate that only 7% communication is based on language and the remainder of the communication comes from the speakers' body language, facial expression, and vocal tone and pitch. Like humans, other species communicate with their own kind in different ways, some similar to humans and some different. Observing gorillas or mandrills (in the Africa pavillion) provides an opportunity to observe body language and social behaviour. Even crocodiles use body posture, slapping the water with their jaws, or blowing bubbles to reinforce status within their group.

Chameleons (also in the Africa pavillion) communicate using body colour! Desert lizards (in Americas) use head bobbing and "push-ups" to communicate to their neighbours.

A Bit about Amphibian Communication

Frogs and toads make sounds for different reasons. Most of us are familiar with the noise of spring, when wetlands and temporary ponds erupt into a chorus of frog calls. These calls are produced by the males in an attempt to attract a female of the same species. The frog's voice box contains the vocal cords which produce the characteristic call. Air enters the nostrils and moves between the mouth and the lungs over the vocal cords. The resulting vibration pulsates the air column, and a sound is produced. Both males and females contain a voice box, however, only males possess a vocal sac (that large, characteristic "chin-pouch") which resonates, increasing the volume of the call.

The most commonly heard call is the breeding call which males emit to attract females, or to mark their territory during breeding season. Two competing males also use the call when interact with one another. Females produce a reciprocation call in response to the male's breeding call - to let him know she might be interested. The release call, lets an overly friendly male know that he's trying to breed with another male, or an unreceptive female. And, like most animals, frogs or toads have a distress call they emit when disturbed, threatened, or attacked.

Messages to Other Animals

There is a second, although indirect, type of communication that is obvious in amphibians and many other animals. Animals are born with instincts but they also learn about the world around them through life experiences. In the case of many frogs, their bright colouration communicates a message to would-be predators. The Arrow-Poison frogs (Americas Pavilion) provide an example of how skin colour can effectively communicate a message. The bright red, orange, green, blue, or yellow colours displayed on the skin act as a warning to potential predators. Arrow-Poison frogs, and their close relatives, have the ability to produce a poisonous skin secretion. A predator who tries to consume the frog soon learns to avoid the bright colours.

Some Suggestions:

  • Unit 4 provides some information about communication in various groups of amphibians.
  • In this unit, the Zoo Activity Sheet 8.5 Animal Communications, provides students the chance to observe and think about communications.

Every day, all over the world, new species of plants and animals are being discovered. It would be almost impossible to study the characteristics of these species if we did not classify them in some way. Taxonomy is the science of grouping similar organisms together in a systematic way.

There are several taxonomic groupings within the classification system, moving from a very broad grouping (e.g. Kingdom which separates life into large groupings, such as Plant Kingdom and Animal Kingdom) to the very specific grouping of species (e.g. Bufo americanus, the American toad). The main groupings are: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.

Classifying Amphibians:

Amphibians are members of the Animal Kingdom and belong to the phylum Chordata (having a spinal cord), and the subphylum Vertebrata (having a bony skeleton).

Animals that belong to the class Amphibia are grouped together because they share several common characteristics. These characteristics include: moist, glandular, and permeable skin; two pairs of legs, often with webbed feet; body temperature variable with the environment; fertilization occurs in water; young hatch from eggs, and undergo a metamorphosis; they respire using gills and lungs; they have a three-chambered heart; and are found in fresh water.

Animals within the class of amphibians are divided into three groups called orders. Those with tails, the salamanders and newts, belong to the order Caudata. All tailless amphibians belong to the order Salientia (formerly called Anura). The final group is made up of legless, worm-shaped amphibians called caecilians, which belong to the order Apoda.

Each order is further divided into families. For example, in Ontario the order Salientia is represented by three families: the Bufonidae (toads - 2 species), the Hylidae (treefrogs - 5 species), and the Ranidae (True frogs - 6 species).

Genus is the final grouping. Plants or animals with many similarities are grouped together by genus. Every living plant and animal has a scientific name that consists of their genus and species. The genus is always capitalized, and the species name is in lower case. Most names within the classification system are derived from Latin. An example of this system would be the name of the gray treefrog, Hyla versicolor. The genus of this animal is Hyla which means belonging to the forest, and the species is versicolor which means able to change colour. (See Exercise 4.9: What's in a Name? for more examples.) Because of the large number of species to classify many also use "Latinized" words or names. For example Brewster's sparrow, Spizella breweri, has a species name derived from, Brewer, the name of the scientist that first discovered it.

Some Suggestions:

  • Exercise 4.9: What's in a Name? will to help familiarize your students with the scientific names (and their meaning!) for many wetland species.
  • Ask students to list 10 animals that they see during their visit, using both English and scientific names - when you return to school find out the meaning of the names. (Hint: This may present some challenges. Biological dictionaries are helpful but not always easy-to-find. Standard dictionaries can be used but you may need to think of English words that are similar to the scientific word to discover the meaning of the Latin root.)
  • At the Zoo, use the "Zoo Wetland Species Classification" activity sheet from Exercise 4.8 Classing Creatures. For preparation, see activity sheets: "Classing Animals" and "Life in a Wetland - Classification" in the same exercise.
  • In this unit, the Zoo Activity Sheet 8.6: "Latin Lurks at the Zoo", provides a scavenger hunt for names for students from Grade 5 and up.

Unfortunately the threat to the world's wild life remains an important topic. Unit 5: Environmental Issues and Unit 10: Case Studies provide important background reading for this topic.

Some Suggestions:

  • Contact the Zoo's Education Department for information about obtaining "Endangered Species: A Teacher's Resource Kit". Special tours are also available.
  • Fact sheets about the Zoo's endangered animals are available from the Zoo's Education Department. The fact sheets provide detailed information about the species, why it is endangered, what is being done for it, and its future.
  • Zoo Activity Sheet 8.7: Wild Life at Risk provides a guide for looking at endangered species in the Zoo. Question 1 asks students to identify the animals at risk that they see during their visit. Back in the classroom you may wish to follow-up with a research assignment to help students find out the reasons these animals are threatened in the wild.


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